aqua fortis

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Strange Nature of Online Friendships

I've noticed that I follow strange unwritten protocols when I'm dealing with friends or acquaintances that I relate to almost exclusively online. I think it's because, without regular face-to-face contact, and without a business relationship or other situational clue to behavior, I'm uncertain as to the nature and depth of these relationships. I don't know what the appropriate level of contact is.

With my blogging and Twitter friends, there are four categories of people. There are those whom I am friends with outside of the online realm, and see on a regular or semi-regular basis. I don't feel the same type of uncertainty at all with this group of people--mostly writers I went to grad school with or other friends who happen to be blogging.

The second category consists of people I haven't met in person--or have only met a couple of times--but with whom I share something in common. Generally these are the people I work with from the Kidlitosphere, whose blogs I read and who take part in many of the same online activities as I do. I am fairly clear on the nature of my relationship with this group of people, too--we have a common interest, we relate on that level and possibly exchange the occasional personal pleasantry if it's someone I know a bit better.

Then there are the people I don't know very well at all--let's call them acquaintances, because that's what they are. I might occasionally post a blog comment or a Twitter reply, but generally, it's a non-real-time, sporadic sort of relationship. No questions there, either.

It's the fourth category that causes me to agonize over every Tweet-reply sent, over every blog comment and unsolicited e-mail: the people I would like to consider in the category of friends but whom I only actually know online and as such only really know a certain side of. If I Tweet in reply or comment on blogs, I always wonder if I'm overstepping some unwritten boundary--for instance, what if I'm in their Category Three and freaking them out because they're wondering why a mere acquaintance is suddenly glomming on? What if it's presumptuous of me to send more than, say, one direct Twitter reply per day? Is it uncouth to send such people an actual e-mail?

And the anxious self-questioning gets even more unrelenting if I send an e-mail or a Twitter reply and, for whatever reason, nothing gets sent to me in return. Not that every e-mail or Tweet requires a reply--far from it; I sure don't need comments every time I post what I'm eating for breakfast--but where does the endless-reply-loop politely stop? Eventually someone has to decide that an exchange consisting of original Tweet-->reply Tweet-->thank-you Tweet-->you're welcome Tweet-->Smiley face Tweet must come to an end. Nobody wants to be stuck in a loop of inane pleasantries.

WHERE DOES IT ALL END? These are the things that I think about when I'm supposed to be working.


Anonymous said...

Ha! Really, it's not worth worrying about. I find online friendships are just like offline ones: some people you get on with, others you don't.

The latter includes people you'd like to get on with, but for some reason they didn't like your "kill-a-granny" joke (or whatever) and have decided to avoid you. These things would have probably happened in the real world too.

What I decided to do this year is to just stick with the people I get along with, people whose tweets, blogs or comments make my online day more enjoyable. The rest can go hang.

But there's me babbling on when there's one simple word that sums the whole matter up: Rapport. Either it's there or it isn't. If it isn't, there's not much point worrying about it.

Anonymous said...

I say, 'Tweet away', it's all good. Of course I say some odd things sometimes myself, so I'm not one to talk.

tanita✿davis said...

You make me laugh.

I just got an email from a friend who asked me IF I GOT HER CARD.

This insanity is not limited to the Tweeting world, I assure you.

Ethel Rohan said...

I really enjoyed this post; you raise so many great points. I feel like a total rookie when it comes to all the online networking/tweeting, but I'm slowly getting hooked. Initially, I found it overwhelming, so many tweets, so little time, but it's true: I find myself honing into those tweets/blog posts etc. that most "speak" to me and respond in kind. I say keep on doing what you're doing, you're multi-talented and highly versed in posting/tweeting and please don't stop.

Sarah Stevenson said...

...and that's why I love you guys. :) I can grope along for several paragraphs, or Tweet you bizarre things about head-sized cheeses (Donal) and you don't immediately assume I've gone around the bend. Not immediately, anyway.

Yes, rapport is critical...though I often find myself second-guessing it and wondering if it's one-sided or I'm imagining it with my overactive writer's imagination--or, conversely, (and more likely) if I'm imagining that somebody has decided to avoid me. Mild paranoia is one of those personality traits I wish I could get rid of...

Chris Cope said...

I'm in the Donal boat. My general feeling is that if an individual Tweets and blogs various personal aspects of their lives it is fair to treat him or her as if you knew them on such a personal level in real life.

Well, more or less. Those nude photos of your husband that you sent me -- I didn't ask for those.

Sarah Stevenson said...

I now feel compelled to note that none of the nude drawings are of anybody any of you know...

David T. Macknet said...

You're presuming that you know Chris.